US Co-op Leaders Warmly Welcomed to the White House
(left to right)
President Dame Pauline
Green, NAHC President
Vernon Oakes and
Council of NY Condos
and Co-ops Executive
Director Mary Ann
Rothman at the White
First Ever Event for NAHC Leaders and Others
David J. Thompson
On May 4th, for the first time in US history, the White
House held a national briefing for the widest range
co-op leaders from around the country. The trigger
for this historical event was the United Nations
declaration of 2012 as the International Year of
Jack Lew, Chief of Staff to
the President of the United
States, welcomes cooperative
representatives to the White
Seeing co-ops as a particular bright spot in the US
economy, the Obama Administration asked NCBA to
invite 150 co-op leaders to come to Washington,
DC. The White House wanted to engage US co-op
leaders in a national dialogue around community
development, job creation and economic
opportunity. Representing NAHC were President
Vernon Oakes; Anne Sackrison of CSI Support &
Development Services, and Mary Ann Rothman of
the Council of New York Cooperatives and
Paul Hazen, past President of the National
Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and one
of the early champions of IYC, remarked, "The
IYC 2012 has provided a platform to raise the
cooperative profile. We did that earlier this year with at the White House."
With every seat filled in the auditorium at the White House, the US cooperative community represented what Chuck Snyder,
CEO of NCB calls "America's best kept secret." In the room were representatives of 29,000 cooperatives which serve one in
three Americans, do $652 billion dollars in annual sales and support over 2 million jobs.
Kyle Lierman of the Office of Public Engagement spoke of the White House’s excitement at working with the cooperative
sector. It was evident that NCBA and the White House staff were working together at the highest level in a productive
On their part, the White House Office of Public Engagement pulled out all the stops to show the importance they placed on
the briefing to co-op leaders. Although not listed on the program, the surprise entrance and remarks of Jack Lew, Obama’s
White House Chief of Staff were the highlight of the President’s policy lineup.
On behalf of the President, Chief of Staff Lew welcomed the cooperators to the White House. He said it was “an honor to
have so many of you here that, as part of the cooperative community, are building our economy and creating jobs.” As a
member of a credit union, Lew praised credit unions for being a fundamental source of banking services to so many
Americans. Lew spoke to the President’s goals and took questions. Vernon Oakes pointed out the opportunity to form
multi-site housing co-ops out of foreclosed single family homes and a similar opportunity to convert some public housing to
limited equity co-ops.
Members of the President’s policy team making formal presentations were in order of appearance; Greg Nelson, Deputy
Director for Private Sector Outreach, Judy Canales, Deputy Under Secretary of the United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA), Danielle Gray, Deputy Assistant to the President, National Economic Council and Carlos Monje, Chief of
Staff, Domestic Policy Council.
The back and forth between the White House presenters and the co-op participants was rapid-fire. In a discussion with
Danielle Gray and Carlos Monje, Vernon Oakes touted the benefits of housing co-ops and noted that limited equity housing
co-ops require less Section 8 funds since co-op carrying charges are usually less than market rents. The three hour dialogue
covered every co-op segment with discussion of issues about agricultural cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, credit unions,
health and housing cooperatives, mutual insurance, rural electric cooperatives and worker cooperatives. The overall
discussions moved through every generation, from co-op hospitals to child care cooperatives to student cooperatives and all
the way to senior cooperatives.
It was easy to see that the White House staff was somewhat stunned to hear that there were so many types of cooperatives,
playing such a substantial role in the economy and serving America in so many ways. You could see the surprise on the White
House staffers’ aces. Almost every co-op questioner took a little time to give a thumb nail sketch of their particular segment.
Cooperators everywhere in the US would be proud of the education effort put on by their representatives.
The day before, at the NCB Annual Meeting, Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, had
urged upon cooperators the importance of being ready to “tell your coop story.” Dame Green was a special guest in the
audience at the White House, and she was very impressed by how enthusiastically American cooperators rose to the occasion.
The second part of the White House program was a Listening Session conducted by Jon Carson, Director of the White House
Office of Public Engagement. When Carson laid out his co-op lineage, he was immediately anointed by the audience as the White
House winner of the “How many co-ops have you been in” award. Born on a farm in Wisconsin, on which his family has resided
on for over 100 years, Carson talked proudly of the co-ops his family were members of; a supply co-op, rural electric co-op and
credit union, and how his dairy co-op was now a member of Organic Valley.
Carson listened intently to comments and questions from the assembled co-op leaders. He and his staff feverishly took notes as
cooperators throughout the room rapidly used the opportunity to give the Obama Administration ideas and feedback. David
Thompson, (the author and an NAHC member) commented that nearly 50 veterans housing co-ops created almost 13,000 units
of housing for returning vets after World War II. He then talked of the tremendous housng and service needs of today’s returning
vets. Thompson then asked how the Obama Administration could help create a new wave of co-op housing for veterans. Carson
liked the idea a lot and asked his staff to add that to one of the things they could work on with the cooperative sector.
The third part of the program consisted of “Breakout Sessions” for co-op leaders to meet separately with officials of US Department
of Agriculture, the Domestic Policy Council, the Small Business Administration and Treasury. The attendees were honored to have Rosa
Rios, Treasurer of the United States, chair the Treasury session. These sessions were particularly helpful to those with specialized
interests. At the Domestic Policy Council breakout, in response to White house interest in things that could be done by the Executive
Branch without further legislation, Vernon Oakes advocated for a change in HUD regulations so that co-op lenders could use the
Mortgagee Accelerated Processing program, which would save time for lenders and developers while also saving staff effort by HUD.
Oakes also called for HUD to issue overdue regulations to permit FHA-insured reverse mortgage share loans.
The entire group then came back together for closing remarks. Kyle Lierman, of the White House Office of Public Engagement, thanked
the cooperators in attendance for their participation and ideas and outlined numerous concrete ways in which the relationship would
It was there that the historic photo was taken of a meeting that had taken 236 years to arrange. Everyone seemed excited about the
morning event, but even more excited about the collaboration and partnership that was ahead. For the attendee cooperators, the
International Year of Cooperatives was definitely a change maker.
After the meeting, Liz Bailey remarked that, “It was impressive to observe the White House staff taking notes as they learned new
information and gained new awareness of the coop footprint in the US economy. It's a meeting that put cooperatives on their radar
screen and laid the groundwork for a multi-faceted ongoing dialogue.”
The IYC has meant that numerous cooperatives have been telling exceptional stories to Main Street America about their stability, job
creation, investment in community and lending to small business. By shining light on our successes, cooperatives are less of a secret.
In an era of economic downturn and despair with corporate conduct, trust in cooperatives has risen extensively. The question now is
how to build beyond the IYC. The White House Briefing was a good place to start the dialogue and plan the actions.
Vernon Oakes summed up the meeting from NAHC’s perspective, saying “I was very impressed with the White House staff; I felt that
they heard us and they will do what they can.” He cautioned, “The responsibility for promoting the cooperative business is ours. We
have to create our own data base and promote the co-op message with and through our members.”
Documents developed for the White House meeting and from the meeting will be placed online at www.ncba.coop. CHB